When Should You Help A Coworker Struggling With A Customer | Cliff Diving

When Should You Help A Coworker Struggling With A Customer

This topic came up in a discussion with a team member. She asked, “how do I know when to jump in and help someone with a customer?”

It was not a problem I had thought much about before. While I had discussed the eventuality in training, I had not given much consideration to the level of uncertainty that team members can have in these situations.

As the owner, I can easily jump into a conversation with a customer simply by saying, “Hi, I’m Adam; I’m the owner. I couldn’t help but overhearing what you were saying, and I would love to help you out.”

If you are the owner or manager, you are generally welcomed into any customer conversation as someone in authority who can “do more” to help resolve the customer’s issues. Of course, you want to be aware of not stepping on your team’s toes, but outside of those considerations, the in to the conversation is pretty easy.

However, what should someone do when they are not the boss or manager? What if they hold the same position as the person assisting the customer? How should team members be trained to handle these situations?

When To Jump In To A Customer Service Conversation

When Should You Help A Coworker Struggling With A Customer | Cliff DivingBelow are 4 scenarios where you should consider jumping in to help a coworker struggling with a customer:

  • The coworker is giving inaccurate information. If you hear a coworker giving a customer inaccurate information, that is usually a strong signal to involve yourself in the conversation, particularly if that information could come back to haunt the customer and the company later. In customer service, false expectations are what team members give to pass off problems to others down the line.
  • The coworker is no longer focused on a solution. When you see that your coworker is in a reactive place and is more focused on defending himself than helping to satisfy the customer, then it can be time to step in. If you step in gently and focus on solutions, your teammate will hopefully be inspired to rejoin you on a productive path.
  • The customer is not responding well to your coworker. When it is obvious that the customer is now reacting to your coworker as much as the situation or the company, a fresh face can really help change the direction of the conversation.
  • The customer needs someone with more authority. Even if you do not technically have more formal authority, you can occassionally adopt an air of authority through knowledge or experience. “No sir, I am not a manager, but I’ve been with the company for years and I am very familiar with the product you are talking about.” This move implicitly knocks your coworker a bit — i.e. I have more knowledge than the person you have been talking to — so it should be used with care.

Feelings, Everyone’s Got Feelings

Stepping in to help a coworker is an inherently delicate business. You need to be aware of your relationship with the coworker and the coworker’s general disposition. Egos are fragile things, and stepping in to save a situation can inherently be seen by less secure coworkers as insulting or patronizing.

If the goal is to help the customer, you can only achieve that goal if your actions do not make the situation worse.

The four scenarios above will give you some fairly solid guidelines on when to consider stepping in to help a coworker, but each specific instance will be dictated by who is in the situation as much as what the situation is.

Have you ever watched a coworker struggling with a customer and debated whether or not to step in? Have you ever stepped in and wished you hadn’t?


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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